Saints 3 Grizzlys 2
OLDS — Travis Rolheiser left the Red Deer Rebels last fall knowing full well that he didn’t fit into the club’s long-term — or even short-term — plans.
He’s still blocking pucks, while the Rebels closed out their 2008-09 Western Hockey League season on March 15.
The Edmonton native, who attended five Red Deer training camps after being listed by the club and appeared in WHL exhibition games in three of those five years, was always that No. 3 or 4 guy on the depth chart. He would return to the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the understanding that he would be available to the Rebels in the case of an emergency, and sure enough, he was called up for a handful of WHL regular-season contests.
But last fall he decided he’d be better off starting the AJHL season with his new club, the Spruce Grove Saints, who acquired the 19-year-old in a summer deal.
“With their (Rebels’) goaltending situation last year, I just didn’t feel like I fit in, so I decided to come back (to the AJHL) and play the whole year with Spruce Grove.
“I felt that we had a real good situation here, and so far it’s worked out,” Rolheiser said Tuesday, after stopping 21 shots — including several of the difficult variety — to help the Saints defeat the Olds Grizzlys 3-2 and complete a sweep of their best-of-seven AJHL semifinal before 721 fans at the Sports Complex.
The Saints showed why they’re the top-ranked junior A team in Canada, fending off a hard-charging band of Grizzlys with a disciplined defensive style while taking advantage of their scoring opportunities. Rolheiser has played a key role in the team’s success, and truly feels blessed.
“It’s so much better being on a winning team. It’s so much more fun to come to the rink every day,” he said, thankful for the off-season AJHL trade that landed him in Spruce Grove, just a 15-minute drive from his Edmonton home.
“It’s just unbelievable, especially now that we’re going to the AJHL final (against either Grande Prairie or Brooks). This is something I’ve never experienced and I’m looking forward to it.”
Rolheiser isn’t the lone member of the Saints with a Rebels connection. Jordan Draper played seven regular-season games with Red Deer in the 2007-08 season, defenceman Rory Connop and Malcolm Tomlinson have attended a Rebels training camp and forward Josh Lazowski, after being cut last fall, is expected to be back at the Rebels’ camp in August.
Rolheiser has two years of education (tuition and books) money coming his way for his time with the Rebels, but isn’t sure if he’ll start to cash in next fall.
“I’m probably looking at coming back to the Saints. I’m not settled on my schooling,” he said.
“My ambition is to play at the highest possible level and right now that would be the CIS (Canadian university ranks), maybe with the U of A (Alberta) or U of C (Calgary).
“But honestly, I haven’t put any thought into that lately. I’m just riding this out to see where it goes.”
The Saints are off to the AJHL championship series with their ultimate goal being a berth in the Royal Bank Cup tournament in Victoria, B.C., in May. So far, so good, although they were pushed hard by a big-hearted Grizzlys team.
The visitors got unanswered opening-period goals from Brett Switzer (power play) and Colton Yaremovich. Carey Koroluk responded for Olds 3:31 into the second frame, but Draper restored the Saints’ two-goal cushion with a four-on-four marker five minutes later.
Olds again pulled to within one when Mitch Maxwell connected with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle at 6:19 of the third period, and the Grizzlys pressed down the stretch without getting the equalizer. Olds netminder Marc Boulanger finished with 18 saves.
“I don’t know how much prouder a person can be of a group of players,” said Grizzlys head coach/GM Kevin Hasselberg, who complimented the graduating Grizzlys. “They came to us as kids and they’re leaving as men.
“Everybody in that dressing room can hold their heads extremely high. That was a very good hockey team we competed with and I really thought that the way we went out was the way we played all year.”
Hasselberg was particularly appreciative of captain Curtis deBruyn.
“We were blessed to have an extraordinary person in Curtis,” said an emotional Hasselberg.
“I’m going to miss that kid. He was a hell of a captain and somebody you want your son to grow up to be like.”
Contact Greg Meachem at email@example.com